DoNorth

Where The Gibson Brothers Started

A quiet, smiling cashier and a rack of newspapers and magazines greet customers as they enter and set foot on the blue tiles. The brown shirt hanging from the wall states, “People kill. Not guns,” while a guitar-shaped Budweiser sign shines a flash of red light on the milk-laden refrigerator, whose noisy roar pervades the room. This out-of-the-way store full of candy, chips, and Leanin’ Tree greeting cards seems nothing out-of-the-ordinary. But Dick’s Country Store and Goods on U.S. Route 11 in Churubusco, N.Y., is extraordinary. Along the wall displaying handsaws adorned with hand-painted Adirondack Mountain scenes, there’s a door.…

A quiet, smiling cashier and a rack of newspapers and magazines greet customers as they enter and set foot on the blue tiles. The brown shirt hanging from the wall states, “People kill. Not guns,” while a guitar-shaped Budweiser sign shines a flash of red light on the milk-laden refrigerator, whose noisy roar pervades the room. This out-of-the-way store full of candy, chips, and Leanin’ Tree greeting cards seems nothing out-of-the-ordinary.

But Dick’s Country Store and Goods on U.S. Route 11 in Churubusco, N.Y., is extraordinary. Along the wall displaying handsaws adorned with hand-painted Adirondack Mountain scenes, there’s a door. A door that takes musicians and hunters to their safe place. A door to a room full of guns, guitars and all that comes in between. A door that musicians, such as The Gibson Brothers, took their first guitar and banjo lessons behind.

“It’s kind of where they got their start,” says Dick Decosse, the store’s owner, and a musician himself. And now, the Gibson Brothers, Eric, and Leigh, are kind of a big deal. The bluegrass duo was named Entertainer of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association, and their latest album, “They Called It Music,” earned a “Hot Shot Debut” notice for jumping to the No. 4 position on Billboard Magazine’s Bluegrass Albums Chart in April. They’ve played Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium and are headliners at bluegrass festivals across the country. They owe much of their success to the wondrous room behind the door in this out-of-the-way country store.

Eric Gibson has known Decosse since he was 5 or 6 years old. Growing up as hunters, he and Leigh would wander in to look at the handguns or shotguns. He loved walking around the store and admiring the instruments, too. And who wouldn’t? With such extraordinary instruments such as an Apple Creek Dulcimer and pink-flamed guitar, anyone would be mesmerized. He liked the look and smell of them. “It was a nice experience for a country boy,” Eric says.

But one particular instrument stuck out to Eric. He always had been drawn to the unique sound of the banjo. As a child, his dad bought a banjo, but no one in the house could play. Leigh might’ve played a few tunes on his elementary school recorder, but nothing much beyond that. Not until Decosse’s store began offering banjo and guitar lessons.

In 1983, a former employee named Eric O’Hara gave the lessons. Eric recalls his father asking him and his brother to learn the ways of the strings. They were never forced but simply encouraged.

Eric picked the banjo, and Leigh the guitar. “Without that store being there and Eric O’Hara giving lessons, I really don’t think I’d be making music today as a professional,” Leigh says. “I don’t think the opportunity would’ve been there for us.”

Learning to play instruments didn’t come easily; 11- and 12-year-old boys can be easily distracted. “I remember I had a hard time during the lessons because there was a rack of firearms that were in for repair that would sit in the room behind where my teacher was sitting,” Leigh says, “and I just kept looking at those because I had this sort of longing to be a hunter, too.”

It was O’Hara’s patience and encouragement that strung the brothers along. He kept the environment comfortable for them; if they hadn’t practiced, O’Hara wouldn’t scold them. He’d, instead, make a joke out of it. At the same time, however, Eric liked O’Hara so much he didn’t want to let him down. O’Hara’s serious musical skills, along with his fresh-out-of-college vibes, listed him under “cool” in Eric’s book.

One thing O’Hara said never left Eric’s mind: “I want to learn every day of my life. I want to learn something new on my last day.”

Now, that’s what Eric strives to do.

The brothers took lessons for only a year and a half, but that wasn’t the end of their Dick’s Country Store loyalty. In 1999, Eric returned to work part-time. “He worked here just to fill in a gap,” Decosse says. At the time, Eric was in between teaching and a full-time music career. Though Eric stayed at Dick’s Country Store for just two years, he and Decosse continued to work together as musicians. Decosse helped Eric fine tune some songs, whether it was just a line or two or coming up with an entire verse.

Eric says Decosse is one of his best friends. “Dick was an early musical mentor,” Eric says, calling their current bond “such an important friendship.”

Decosse also provided the brothers the opportunity to perform for a live audience. Sure, the brothers played for the family all the time, but playing for people who weren’t family members was a different story. “Performing for a live audience is important for a young musician because you don’t go from playing guitar to playing in front of a few thousand people,” Leigh says.

While The Gibson Brothers’ career recently skyrocketed, Dick’s Country Store has been around since 1962. Eight years later, Decosse’s father decided it was time to pass the store down. Back then, it was a simple grocery store and gas pump.

Two G’s.

Three years later, Decosse decided it was time to expand, selling  firearms — ammunition, a few rifles, and shotguns. Handguns were added in 1975. Since then, the store has carried guns for any individual’s taste: mini-handguns in a case, rifles and shotguns now lining the walls.

Three G’s.

There are also knives and axes for the hunters looking to do more than just shoot their prey. Camouflage and leather belts hang in the back room, adding some style for local hunters.

In the early years, groceries were the draw, but large chains stole the limelight from small, local grocers like Decosse; and the grocery section has since been downscaled into a convenience store. “We still have some groceries,” Decosse says. “You could get enough here to go home and have a decent meal if you have to.”

In 1977, Decosse added musical accessories to his line of products. Customers knew he played, so they asked him if he could sell a few strings or picks. Decosse started small. Eventually, customers asked about guitars. Decosse brought in lower-line guitars, but it kept escalating.

The first brand name guitar Dick’s Country Store carried was Gretsch. “At that time, we had Gretsch guitars hanging over the top of the meat case, so you’d be down here buying bologna and up here would be a Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar,” Decosse says.

The more people asked, the more he brought in. Expansion became inevitable. The store’s first expansion was the present-day guitar area. Back in the day, it was a part gun shop and part music store. Now, Decosse carries the largest guitar inventory in the three-county area.

Four G’s.

 

                    Guitars line the walls in this country store. (DoNorth/ James Hefferon)

 

Leigh remembers when Chris Martin, president of the Martin guitar company, visited the store to promote the instrument — one used by the likes of Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, and Kurt Cobain. Decosse made that happen. “For a 14-year-old kid, it was a big deal to have a president of a renowned company here,” Leigh says.

The four G’s have attracted people from all over. Local musicians like Tim Hartnett use Dick’s for musical staples like guitar picks and to test their acts at free open-mic nights. “It’s a little bit of a Mecca,” Hartnett says. “People come from miles around to go there.”

Southern rock band .38 Special stopped in for some milk and cookies. Country music stars BR549 have passed through before. Michael Angelo Batio, a metal guitarist, visits the store at least once or twice a year.

The store isn’t only a musician hot spot, however. It’s a movie-star hot spot, too. Well, hot spot may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the “The Bourne Identity’s” Matt Damon and “The Office’s” John Krasinski stopped in two years ago. Scouting for the movie “Promised Land,” these actors were interested in the area’s wind turbines.

They didn’t find the information they were looking for, but a country store titled Rob’s Guns, Groceries, Gas and Guitars was featured in the movie. Decosse enjoyed the opportunity to meet Damon and Krasinski. But there was no need to be starstruck. He already knows about superstars. The Gibson Brothers grew up in his shop.

Issue 1: Summer/Fall 2013

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